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Four Corners, Four Flags. One of Them Ugly!
Utah state senator Daniel McCay, the vexillologist you've never heard of (if indeed you've heard of that word), is bringing modern graphics to the Beehive State flag.
This story begins at one of the most remote bucket-list spots I truly want to visit: the “Four Corners” where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah meet at a single point. It’s the only quadripoit anywhere along the borders of the 50 U.S. states.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Daniel McCay of Riverton, Utah, went to visit the Four Corners Monument during the past few years and was disturbed to notice that Utah’s flag at the monument was drab compared to the striking graphic designs of the flags from Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico.
McCay is an attorney, a real estate investor, and a Utah state senator. The Utah legislators for years have considered overhauling the Beehive State’s flag. Sen. McCay opposed the redesign. Until he went to Four Corners.
He may not have known the word until he read it in the Journal this week, but McCay became a “vexillologist.” I sure didn’t know the word. It means a student of flags.
McCay did an about-face and advocated for a more interesting and modern design for Utah’s flag. The current state flag, dating to 1913 with a slight revision in 2011, features an American Bald Eagle, the sego lily as the Utah state flower, the motto “Industry,” and the beehive also representing progress and hard work.
But the Utah flag is dull. In fact, it is more dull than Connecticut’s flag, which is hardly a panacea of visual interest. The Nutmeg State’s dull flag features our dull state motto, “Qui transtulit sustinet,” meaning “He who transplanted still sustains.” (Which, come to think of it, would be a better motto for a Western state settled by transcontinental pioneers. If only one of those states wanted our motto!)
In case you wonder, my favorite state motto is right next door to us. New York State’s motto is “Excelsior,” meaning “Ever upward.” (But New York State also has a dull flag. If they flew too many of the state flags in Manhattan, the people in the city that never sleeps might look at the flags and fall into a deep slumber.)
Anyway, McCay became a legislative force for adopting a new Utah flag — a brighter and sleeker affair that continues to feature the beehive but also includes five mountains representing the principal mountain ranges in Utah. A gazillion designs were submitted in a competition for the new state flag.
Then the state went into an uproar. The new flag is supposed to take effect in March 2024. But some citizens want a referendum with the aim of preserving the old dull flag. This is where Utah will snatch a defeat from the jaws of symbolism victory.
Let’s go back to the Four Corners. Look at the flags below, with the new Utah flag in the top left corner with Colorado to the right. On the bottom row: Arizona and New Mexico. Doesn’t Utah’s new flag hold its own well with its neighbors’ flags?
Forgive me, but I am going to bring this story home. My city — Bridgeport, Connecticut — also has a dull flag. Compare it to Chicago’s flag, which is simple and yet to Chicagoans is dripping in symbolism including the blue bars for the Chicago River and Lake Michigan as well as the four stars representing key events in Chicago’s history. (A persistent question in Chicago is determining which future event will rate adding a fifth star.)
Bridgeport has hired a graphic design firm to update the city’s symbols, so perhaps we’ll have a new flag. The Four Corner flags and the Chicago flag are good sources of inspiration for a better Bridgeport banner.